The Toronto Maple Leafs announced today that the club has resigned Mikhail Grabovski to a 5-year contract extension, worth $27.5 million dollars. Grabovski will see a healthy raise from the $2.9 million he earned annually in his last contract. The extension makes Grabovski the highest paid forward on the team now, surpassing Phil Kessel‘s $5.4 million per annum deal.
Without getting too deep into it about his contract, I believe the deal is a tad overpriced (perhaps closer to 5 or 5.25 mil would have been better value) but I’m glad to see Grabovski will remain with the team for the next 5 years. Hopefully his performance Saturday night against the Habs, along with Randy Carlyle’s willingness to use him, is a sign of good things to come.
One thing to note: perhaps the Leafs search for the elusive number one center has finally ended. My ‘theory’, if you can even call it that, stems from reading @APetrielli‘s latest Leafs Notebook. Here is the excerpt:
When Carlyle won the Cup with Anaheim, his top three lines, by ice time, were as follows: Kunitz-McDonald-Selanne, as the top line, played the most, then Neidermayer-Pahlsson-Moen as the shutdown line played the second most, then there was a “soft” line in Penner-Getzlaf-Perry, who were a group of young kids that Carlyle would use to exploit the other team offensively.
Andy McDonald, the team’s de facto first line center at the time had 78 points the year Anaheim won the Stanley Cup. Although no center has come close to this number as of late, the ‘makeup’ of the team may have changed with Carlyle at the helm. Petrielli notes the existence of an offensive line, a shutdown line, and a soft line. One would assume the last line was the energy line, featuring players like Drew Miller, George Parros, Todd Marchant, Brad May and Ryan Shannon.
It’s plausible Grabovski could become this team’s ‘McDonald’, or he could be a more offensive ‘Pahlsson’. Grabovski could be used as the pivot on a ‘shutdown’ line, but could provide a lot more offence at the same time. He could also bloom with higher numbers offensively if given better linemates and used more appropriately.While nothing is set in stone just yet, he’ll certainly have to play in a role that will justify his shiny new pricetag.
Few things are certain going into next year, but at this point we know Mikhail Grabovski is a Leaf for the foreseeable future, and that’s alright with me.
As our friend Super Mario would say, “Yahoo!”.
I happened find that exact word leave my mouth in that loveable tone after the Leafs finally got back in the win column, and who better to get back on track against than Montreal. I was out for dinner for the first period and a half, but was able to conspicuously stream the radio feed with one speaker in my ear as to not miss anything. Finally, we were able to put forth a complete 60 minute effort and grab that first win for Mr. Randy “Kiddie” Carlyle. With the blue and white down by 1 in the first, Browny stepped up big in the first with a seismic tilt against Staubitz, which seemed to spark the team. The coaching change was really noticeable in the ice times of certain players, and I especially liked the move of the big bodied Steckel onto the third line. Matt Frattin had a great game and seemed energized by the vote of confidence given to him by the new bench boss. The MacArthur – Grabo – Frattin line was clearly favoured by Carlyle and accounted for all of the leafs goals with Grabo netting a couple timely beauties late in the third. The offence wasn’t the only part of the Leaf’s game that returned to form as The Monster came up with some timely saves to keep the Leafs in the game and eventually hold on to the win. The biggest difference I saw in our game was the desperation the Leafs played with in the last couple minutes and was epitomized my Lupul’s diving blocked shot.
For now at least, it seems that the Leafs have found their game, and hopefully they can keep it going against Boston on Tuesday. Which by the way would be a really great time for Kessel to get over his inconvenient, but totally reasonable fear of Zdeno Chara, and bury a few in the back of the net against his old team. As of today however, Leaf nation let out a collective sigh of relief last night (that apparently raised CO2 levels in Toronto by 15%), and praise Randy Carlyle for getting this team off their losing streak.
Now we can finally answer the question posed by notorious Leaf fan Mike Myers many years ago…
Do I make you Randy? <– Click it
The Leafs have finally ended their losing streak, and it happened in new coach Randy Carlyle’s first game. Coincidence or not, the Leafs needed the win badly if they had any hope of making the playoffs this season.
The game started at a torrid pace – a mix of speed and physicality, and a dash of oddity – and saw the Habs strike first, on a tap in by Montreal’s Erik Cole. At this point, the Leafs were in a bit of disarray as Jonas Gustavsson had stumbled a few times outside of his crease.
Still, the Leafs were able to stay the course, and escaped the period down only one. During the first, you could see the Leafs were fired up, and an emphasis was definitely placed on the physical game. Every player was finishing his checks, and it culminated in a Mike Brown – Brad Staubitz tilt (Brown left the game at this point, unknown at this point what his status is).
Prior to the game, everyone who commented on the hiring said that Carlyle is a big line-matcher. Tonight was solid proof of the matter, as Carlyle used essentially three lines with regularity. Carlyle’s favourite line tonight was the Matt Frattin – Mikhail Grabovski – Clarke MacArthur line. He began allotting them the majority of icetime in the first period, and it paid dividends by the game’s end.
Frattin would score the tying goal in the second period, and the line would strike twice more when Grabovski put the Leafs up by two late in the third.
I made a tweet comment after Frattin’s first hit of the game that he would become a Carlyle favourite and I believe I may be on to something here. I highly doubt Frattin returns to the AHL any time soon (or until the Leafs are mathematically eliminated).
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A few notes on Carlyle’s coach style:
- Did not respond to Montreal’s goal by staying stationary and yelling “Let’s go”.
- Was teaching the entire game, showing players what to do between whistles/TV timeouts.
- Constantly vocal on the bench, pacing up and down.
- Line matching. Hardly used his fourth line, unlike Wilson.
- Called the Tim Connolly – David Steckel – Nikolai Kulemin line ‘safe’ with their ability to play ‘safe minutes’. Is this the advent of a true checking line? Maybe. Connolly really isn’t cut for it though.
- Notably did not throw goaltending under the bus (OK, that one wasn’t really fair)
- Apparently spoke to players after the game, something Wilson never did.
It’s far too early to be proclaiming success already, but I’ll say this: the Leafs looked fresh tonight, and it seemed as if a different team was playing. I could be blind, or just delusional from the novelty of Carlyle, but it certainly looks better – for now.
Darren Dreger reported last night that the Toronto Maple Leafs have received an offer from an unidentified team for UFA to be, Mikhail Grabovski. He went on to say that the proposed deal included a second round pick and a prospect. Today, Dreger expanded upon the topic, noting that the prospect is currently at the AHL level. Everyone already knows my thoughts on dealing Grabovski, if not, you can read them here. There are many components the team should seek to add in order to become better, but subtracting Grabovski – at the price of a second round pick and a prospect – would set the team back in many ways. Unless the team has a deal to bring in another center immediately, they would probably be forced to call up Joe Colborne, unless they plan on promoting Matthew Lombardi or Darryl Boyce up in the lineup. Tim Connolly still has a year left on his deal, but his uninspiring play as of late has me hesitant to pencil him in any higher than the third line. To set the record straight, I don’t think the Leafs will pull the trigger on this deal. If they liked it, it would have been done already. It’s no secret Brian Burke and Grabovski’s agent are probably negotiating, but at this point we’re not privy to the negotiation status or direction. It’s at best a guessing game whether Grabovski will stay with the team, or if his demands will force him out. Right now, here’s where I think we are down the middle:
- Grabovski is our best center, but similar playing styles to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul has him playing on a different line. Grabovski is a playmaker primarily, but can find the net if given the chance. He’s diligent defensively, and he checks effectively.
- Tyler Bozak has developed nicely into a dependable center, and has had the luxury of playing with Kessel and Lupul. Like Grabovski, he’s primarily a playmaker, but can find the net on occasion. Bozak is also considered a defensive asset, and checks industriously. Grabovski is the better center option, but Bozak has found a niche for the time being on the top line.
- Tim Connolly is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. We all know he has the capability to put up some serious numbers, but when you watch him play, his decision making and work ethic makes you sit there and wonder ‘why?’. Why, as in, why we ever signed him. He’s currently playing on the third line, but brings nothing to the line that a prototypical third liner would bring. He’s not overly physical, and his lack of work ethic sets his linemates back.
- Matt Lombardi is the most predictable player in the world. Having watched him closely for most of the season, his only ‘moves’ are driving wide with speed and going five-hole. Seriously, watch highlights of him scoring: he’s in alone, or driving wide, and he scores five-hole. As a checking option, he’s decent but commands a hefty price tag. He’s decent for spot duty in the top six, but I wouldn’t be confident placing him there for an extended time.
- Darryl Boyce is your standard thirteenth forward / fourth line center / AHL call-up kind of guy. I like his work ethic, his physicality, his speed and willingness to battle. For all these reasons, he’s great to have around for the spots I listed above. Any higher, and your just shooting yourself in the foot or being delusional about his skill.
Moving out Grabovski without acquiring an adequate center in return would require Connolly, Lombardi or Boyce to move up into the top six. There’s a big issue with that happening, and thus, at this point its really not ideal to be discussing a Grabovski trade. In an ideal world, I’d look to deal any of the other centers first. Too bad this world isn’t ideal.
After potentially fielding offers for Clarke MacArthur at last year’s deadline, Brian Burke decided to hold on to the winger who went on to finish the season with a career best 62 points in 82 games. The 62 point season was MacArthur’s first real offensive outburst over his 7-year professional career.
Until last season, he had been hovering at around 0.42 points per game. Amazingly, this stat spiked to a staggering 0.76 points per game last season (over 82 games as well). This season, he’s at a respectable 0.61 points per game, having played in only 46 games.
It’s hard to make a solid read on which player MacArthur truly is.
Is he the 0.60 – 0.70 PPG player, or the career 0.42 PPG player?
This is the decision Brian Burke will have to make, and it will most likely come this season. If Burke truly wants to upgrade his forward corps, he’ll most likely have to move a few bodies out, and MacArthur could be a candidate.
His $3.25 mil cap hit isn’t anything to be worried about, but as one of the higher paid forwards on the team, they may look to move his salary in order to accomodate another forward. Salary isn’t much of a problem this year though, the Leafs will have approximately $7 mil in cap space on deadline day (according to Cap Geek).
There’s a few ways you can look at MacArthur going forward:
He’s missed seven games over the course of the season, including the first two games of the season to suspension. With that in mind, he’s had a decent season to date, and thus…
- He’s finally found his scoring niche, and will continue to score at a 0.60 to 0.70 PPG pace.
- At best he’s an above-average third line player playing with an exceptional center (Mikhail Grabovski) and a recipient of power play time (averaged 1:45 in 08-09, 2:09 in 09-10, 2:55 in 10-11 and 2:01 this season, 11-12).
One more stat for you perusal, MacArthur has only 32 hits this year compared to the 115 he had last year. That element of his game is part of the reason his line was so successful last year. You know Burke looks for forwards with size, and loves when his players play with an edge. Burke may opt to exchange MacArthur with someone like Tuomo Ruutu, a career 0.57 PPG player who already has 102 hits so far this season.
MacArthur could bring a decent return, be it draft picks and prospects or as part of a package to land an upgraded forward. In my opinion, these two ‘heightened’ offensive seasons are anomalies as a result of playing time, special teams opportunities and linemates.
It would definitely be in the best interest of the Toronto Maple Leafs to deal MacArthur now while his value is at it’s peak. Making an upgrade now while being able to maximize the return on MacArthur is the most optimal solution moving forward.
After a strong start to this month’s home stretch, the leafs fell back to earth and maybe even lower as they lost two very important games over the course of the weekend. Friday night the Leafs were in Buffalo and for the most part did play a fairly strong game but were unable to pick up the victory and ultimately lost by a score of 3-2. The following night at home on Saturday the Leafs played host to the Rangers. This game was not very fun to watch from a Leafs’ perspective as they were unable to get anything going for majority of the game and ended up getting shut out by a score of 3-0. A 4-2 record this month is not that bad, but because of the extremely tight standings, the two losses this weekend ultimately have pushed the leafs out of the playoffs and sitting in 9th place. This is not the end of the world, simply because a winning week this week will put us back into the top 8 as it is literally is that close, however it is an area of concern as the Leafs need a strong end to this month’s home stand.
Another area of concern has been the ‘cooling’ off of the leafs’ top snipers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. They have now gone 3 consecutive games without registering a point; their longest streak of the season. On the bright side, center Tyler Bozak is set to return to the lineup Tuesday night and return to the Leafs’ top line alongside Kessel and Lupul. Tim Connolly has simply not been able to connect with the 2 snipers, something Bozak has, therefore a shift in the lines have been implemented ahead of Tuesday night’s match-up with the Senators. The line-up is as follows:
On the defensive end, after briefly being sent down to the Marlies, rookie Jake Gardiner is back up with the big club. It is not yet known who will be sitting on the defensive end, but all eyes point to Gardiner getting back into the lineup. Finally in goal, James Reimer will see his first action in six games, as he tries to get back into the win column and win back his number 1 job.
This past week also saw the beginning of a long month ahead filled with crazy trade speculation and rumors. The spark to this period… Brian Burke’s comments on a radio show where he stated that the Leafs are closing in on a deal and although things can change, it is “very likely” the Leafs make a move shortly.
These comments were made last week, and we have yet to see a deal, so maybe it fell through? Or perhaps Burke is waiting for the right opportunity to make a splash. Regardless Burke knows we are one impact forward away from being a contender in the East, and personally I have a gut feeling it will be sooner rather than later that this forward lands in Toronto.
Time to cue the names rumored to be on the move… We have heard the likes of James Van Riemsdyk, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Eric Staal just to name a few. With Van Riemsdyk’s most recent concussion you can all but scratch him off the list as potential trade bait (unless it is very minor and he returns to action within the next few weeks).
Bobby Ryan is probably the most rumored to be on the move of the remaining three and perhaps the most acquirable asset for the right price. The rumored asking price for Ryan/Getzlaf from Anaheim’s perspective would be one of Joe Colborne or Nazem Kadri, a prospect, and a 1st rounder. Depending on who that prospect is and how high they are on the rankings can essentially make or break this trade.
Looking through GM Brian Burke’s eyes, I think it is safe to assume he expects he would have to let go of one of those young prospects although he might try to ship off a roster player instead of another prospect to minimize the damage done to the youth pool. Also, because the Leafs would be acquiring another top line asset, this makes a 2nd/3rd line guy expendable, for example Mikhail Grabovski or Clarke MacArthur (both of whom have been rumored to be on the move).
Finally defenseman Luke Schenn may also be used as heavy trade bait simply because our defensive depth has exceeded expectations this season and with John-Michael Liles set to return soon, the logjam on the back end is quite a waste. Yes I know, the more depth the better, but there comes a time when excess parts are converted into covetable assets, which in this case means trading a defender (and perhaps more), for an impact, top-six forward.
With all of that said, the rumors are expected to wheel in as we approach the end of January and into the beginning of February. Burke is known to make his ‘big’ moves well ahead of the deadline so it is safe to say the end of January is a possible time frame for one of these deals to go down (if they do). Until it happens, all of us fans will have to wait patiently and hope Burke can pull of some magic like we have seen him do in the past.
Aside from the rumors, these upcoming games are as big as ever, and the team needs to focus on winning some hockey games and picking up points, ensuring they are back in the top 8 for good.
They say don’t put the cart before the horse, but tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs will take the two points and move on. Although unspectacular throughout most of the game, the Leafs were able to mount a third period comeback and force overtime, eventually besting the revived Jets in the shootout.
Tonight’s game was disheartening and frustrating to watch for a few reasons. It seemed at times the Leafs couldn’t make a pass, clumsily dishing the puck around their own zone and behind forced back behind their own net. They were very much clogged in the neutral zone, and often could not get their cycle game going.
Their defensive effort was not much better. Lost man coverage and impulsive decisions in their own end often led to scoring chances, which James Reimer handled quite well. In my opinion, Reimer had a good game. The first goal, scored by Tobias Enstrom, was through a medley of screening teammates, so you can’t fault him there. Alexander Burmistrov‘s goal was a pretty one; Nik Antropov forced the puck outside and around the net, then dished it in front for the roofjob. A tough play for any goaltender. Lastly, Mark Scheifele‘s first NHL goal came after the Leafs (cough, Mike Komisarek, cough) gave up another penalty, and was the result of a scramble play rebound. Reimer should have had the rebound better, but on the other hand there was no support around him.
Fear not however, as there were some positives to be found yet in the win. The Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel – Joffrey Lupul line continues to dominate. When I say dominate, I really mean dominate. Kessel now has 12 points in 5 games (7g – 5a). His 7 goals account for approximately 41% of the 17 the team has accumulated to date. Lupul tallied two goals tonight, destroying the net camera with a one-timer, and having one bounce through Ondrej Pavelec‘s legs via an Enstrom deflection. We’re perhaps seeing glimpses of the scorer Lupul once was (and still has the potential to be) with his hot start (7 points, 4g – 3a in 5 GP).
The real gem here is Phil “The Thrill” Kessel. This year, he does it all. Aside from scoring pretty goals every game, Kessel has also found success in dishing the puck. For example, in tonight’s game he made the smart move and fed the puck to a wide open Lupul who slapped it into the gaping net. In the past, Kessel would have looked for a shot. He probably would have missed, or it would have deflected out of play. Tonight he dishes the puck and ties the game at ones. You can truly see that Kessel’s game is evolving. His offensive prowess has always been there, the rest is finally piecing itself together.
Other quick thoughts on tonight’s game:
- The Nikolai Kulemin – Mikhail Grabovski – Clarke MacArthur line needs a spark. They’re trying their creative drop-passing and weaving but it’s not connecting right now. They need to simplify and pot a few. With MacA missing the end of the game, rookie Matt Frattin returned to the trio and you could see the line was instantly better. Perhaps MacA is a bit rusty still?
- Luke Schenn didn’t have an impressive game. He made some dumb moves with the puck that often resulted in opposing scoring chances. Cody Franson needs to draw in the lineup again. I’d say replace Schenn with Franson but then there’s Komisarek, who had his worst game this season. Two consecutive penalties along with killing a few offensive chances just scratch the surface of the type of game he had. I’d swap Komisarek for Franson, but then again I’m not the coach.
- Jake Gardiner had a solid game for the Leafs. His skating proved valuable, often helping him out of tight defensive situations. He also created offense, leading rushes and setting up a few scoring chances. Pierre Lebrun wonders how you would ever take him out of the lineup again. I share the sentiment, he adds a dimension the Leafs severely need with their lack of secondary scoring.
- David Steckel won 16 of 18 draws tonight, good for 88.9%. The Leafs have earned a point in every game since acquiring Steckel. Need I say more?
- Lupul and Frattin in the shootout: cheddar snipes.
It was revealed during the game that Colby Armstrong and Clarke MacArthur were injured. After the game it was announced that Armstrong would miss the upcoming road trip, while MacArthur would make the trip and was considered day-to-day. Armstrong’s injury doesn’t bode very well for the Leafs, who are often a better team with him than without. The injures come at somewhat of a good time.
Tomorrow night’s tilt is with Boston, a team that isn’t shy to drop the mitts. You can be sure Wilson will want to dress Jay Rosehill and/or Colton Orr in anticipation of some physical stuff tomorrow night, considering what happened with Carolina the other night. If I’m Wilson I’d dress this lineup:
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Kulemin – Grabovski – Frattin
MacArthur – Lombardi – Dupuis
Orr – Steckel – Brown
Injecting Orr gives added toughness. Frattin sparked Grabo and Kulemin, so try it again to start tomorrow night. MacA drops to the third line (if he can dress) or move Mike Brown up and dress Rosehill.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson gets his first start of the season tomorrow night in Boston.
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Changes must come for this Toronto team. I don’t just mean it in terms of personnel due to injuries for the next game. Special teams will make or break success this season, and so far they haven’t been good enough. Tonight the PP started off flat, but was given some life when Steckel replaced Bozak with Lupul and Kessel. Perhaps they should try this for a few more games until Tim Connolly is ready to return.
In other news, forward Nazem Kadri was assigned to the Toronto Marlies. I feel it’s the right move, given his injury and the relative success of the team. There will be injuries (as we witnessed tonight) and he will get his chance. No one’s given up on him yet, and that’s important to note.